A delicate piece of hardware

Much like with other modern technology, we’ve managed to squeeze more into smaller space. The laptops or pads we have nowadays are engineered to a point that barely anyone can open up their cases and fix them without further studying on the subject. Game consoles aren’t any different, though the PlayStation 4 is almost as big as the original Xbox. It wasn’t until we began to have consoles that began to show easily damaged sections in the mainline consoles. While the PlayStation could take some hefty damage (personal experience tells me it can survive a trip in a lake), the PlayStation 2 could be damaged by having enough weight at the wrong spot. This was the time when PCBs started to become thinner and more packed up with components downsizing with almost each year. You could lob a NES or SNES outside a window have it working with a cracked case, and the same really for the PlayStation as well. Personal experience, don’t ask. PlayStation 2 however was the first truly delicate piece of hardware that in the end begun to have issues with reading the discs. Sometimes from the very beginning.


Goddamn, this video came out sometime early 2000’s. Takes me back

Nintendo’s consoles usually have been durable, especially their handheld consoles. There has even been discussion how Iwata drove the DS’ tech team mad by demanding the console to be able to withstand multiple drops from a standard height.

However, the more we pack delicate technology in a smaller place, the more easy it is to break it. While most people fellate companies over the hardware, it’s uncommon to see anyone appreciate the design and intentions of the design. The PSP was applauded for its higher raw power over the DS, and while it was snazzy to have in your hands, it was a delicate piece of hardware that could break down very easily. The console wasn’t meant for everybody, and much like how SEGA used to sell Mega Drive for more mature gamers, SONY’s western branches clearly had the more adult audience in mind. The PSP really couldn’t take much damage, I’ve had to fix a few. The same applies to the Vita to some extent, thought the Vita seems to be able to take a beating or two more than its elder sibling.

The Switch has been out only for a while, but it’s already showcasing very erratic behaviour. Some have it going completely mad in sound department, some consoles refuse to launch games, connection issues with the controllers, and the screen’s been scratched by the dock itself. I saw the dock scratching issue the very moment the whole thing was revealed (it had no guiding rails to keep the screen clear), but having a plastic screen is a necessity. Why wouldn’t you want to have a glass screen? They’re so much better! The reason for this is safety and durability design. See, when you have a plastic screen, the console can dissipate a fall impact by wobbling around rather move the energy directly into rigid parts, destroying them. The very reason your phone’s screen shatters so easily is because it can’t bent, and the energy from the is released by shattering. It’s a design decision between durability and looks.

To sidetrack a bit, this really applies to Muv-Luv‘s BETA as well. The Destoyer-Class has a shield hardness of Mohs-15, but because that’s hardness topping that of a diamond, their shields should shatter when shot at. They don’t flex when hit due to their hardness. Mohs scale is for mineral hardness after all and should never be applied outside jewellery.

Newly borked devices is nothing new, either. The 360 had firmware issues since day one, and the infamous Red Ring of Death haunted machines every which way. Hell, the 360 may be a good example overall how to fuck your console from time to time, as some of my friends have told me their 360 crapped out because of an update. For better or worse, my 360 hasn’t crapped out yet.

No modern console is truly finished at launch. Firmware and software issues are relevant and will be patched out at a later date. This is largely due to modern technology. A Mega Drive never needed firmware patches, because it was less a computer than the modern machines. Whatever problems with the firmware Switch has now will be patched at a later date. However, the hardware and design problems are harder to fix, and if Nintendo is anything to go by, they may revise some of the designs in later production versions.

Though there really isn’t any good excuses to use paint coating that peels off with stickers. That’s just terrible. Who puts stickers on their consoles any more? You’d be surprised.

The first wave of adopters will always have to go through the same pains with modern technology. New smart phones and tablets suffer from firmware issues to the point of most common consumers willingly buying last year’s model in order to get a properly functioning device. The price has already dropped at that point too. Apple has been infamous with some of their smart devices’ firmware problems, and sometimes they were removing basic utilities from the hardware alone. Nobody really expected iPhone 7 not to have a headphone jack.

The question some have asked whether or not it’s worth buying a game console, or any modern smart device or computer component for the matter, if they require multiple updates months later down the line? We can’t see into the future, and it’s hard to say what device will go through a harsh update cycle. Essentially, you’ll need to look into history of a company and make a decision based on that. Just trusting that a company will update broken parts is strongly not recommended.

I guess releasing things partially unfinished and patching them up is an industry standard practice. Games get patched to hell and back, and while this isn’t much new for PC side of business, it’s one of those things that show how little of classic console business is in modern consoles. Not all games get patched though, even when they have console destroying bugs in them. NIS America’s track record with localised games that supposedly lock permanently and prevent you from finishing the game, break your console or generally have terrible translation would a perfect chance to use these patches to fix these issues. However, unlike with consoles and other devices, game developers can ignore these problems as the purchase has already been made and they probably are banking on hardcore fans.

Not that any product is final when it’s released. All products are good enough when released, but that good enough has seen a serious inflation with time.

Switch the talk from hardware

I really do sound like a broken record at this point. With the leaks about Switch being less powerful than the PlayStation 4, things have gotten on the overdrive again with calling it a failure on the launch. None of Nintendo’s more powerful consoles have been a success. As Yamauchi said, a game console is just a box to play games on.

Take a look at Nintendo’s history with consoles. NES was underpowered compared to its competitors, yet it came on the top. Well, except in Europe, where Nintendo fucked their marketing and Europeans had their computer games. SNES was ultimately weaker than the Mega Drive thanks to the addons and despite them still came to the top, not to mention the other competitors of the time. N64 failed despite having more powerful hardware than the PlayStation or Saturn. GameCube too was ultimately a failure despite topping the PS2. The Wii was a massive hit despite being weaker. The Wii U on the other hand had jack shit when it came to software (just like the N64) and had that huge controller nobody wanted. The same can be seen in the handheld market. The Game Boy slaughtered all of its competition as did the DS. The Vita could have trumped the 3DS if it had any software worth shit, but SONY repeated the exact same travesty they did with the PSP.

The common consumer doesn’t give jack shit about how strong a console is. Why? Because they know hardware does not mean better games. People absolutely hate paying for new hardware, because it’s the games that matter. The hardware race has always been part of the PC culture, not console. Consoles have been about software race. Tech fans no need to apply for console gaming, if we’re being brutally blunt here.

Because Super Mario Bros. was such a success, you saw a lieu of games trying to replicate its success, most notably Sonic the Hedgehog. The developers just need to do their job and optimise the games, and even better, design games from the ground up for the Switch and all is golden. Of course, because everything just runs on the same engine as everything else and nobody bothers doing any extensive optimisation to ensure the smoothest possible experience (or even know how to do that at worst case) we’ll just get sad and hastily put together ports.

Consumers never bought Nintendo consoles for them being Nintendo consoles. Not outside fanboys. People bought them for the software, for Mario and Zelda. People bought PlayStation for the same reason; it had games they wanted to play, not because the hardware. Nintendo is not a niche as some would assume because of their approach. No, on the contrary. Their consoles tended to be cheaper and smaller than the competitors’ because of matured technology. This is again one of those things we’ve gone over so many times, but seems like people are still ignoring the fact when Nintendo uses Gunpei Yokoi’s philosophy alongside Yamauchi’s, they strike gold. Nintendo, when they are at their best (NES, Game Boy, Wii) Nintendo is far from being a niche. Electronic games isn’t just a hobby of selected group of people, but something all can enjoy, and striking that Blue Ocean should be expected and even wanted, not the opposite. Losing hope over lack of hardware prowess is useless. Your life doesn’t depend on a game console, go outside camping sometimes.

Switch has few points going for it that most seem to ignore. One is the cartridges. This needs more fanfare, as it means the games themselves will be far more longlasting than the optical media. The lack of long loading times helps too. Oh now you care about hardware? Oh you. Secondly, the fact that the Switch is a hybrid also means the games are not required to be connected to the Internet all the damn time.

The biggest problem the Switch currently has is the fact that Nintendo isn’t showcasing any of that software. This is the sole reason why people are talking about Switch’s hardware to the extent they currently are and each and every bit of information is torn apart. There’s nothing else to talk about the Switch, and I haven’t seen anyone else to discuss its design either. The latest The Legend of Zelda got pushed back too, so the media can’t discuss that either. So, hardware it is for them to keep the clicks up. I guess I’m no better, commenting on the fact. Unless Nintendo rolls something significant on the software side with the Switch, there’s no valid reason for me to discuss it any further.

One of my New Year’s promises should be to throw this broken record to trash and just re-blog the sentence Software matters more than hardware whenever applicable.

Top 5 games of 2015

Much like last few years, here’s personal Top 5 games of 2015. Like last time, all these games were first played in their actual physical form this year. As the release year doesn’t matter to any reviewer out there either, I’m simply picking from the games I played this year. This post is going out about week before intended, but seeing how I’ll be a bit busy for the rest of the year, I don’t see myself picking up any new games that could affect this post.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)

MonHun4U is a peculiarity on this list. The sole reason I bought a Flanders (N3DS) was to play with my friends who live elsewhere. After the initial whomp of daily playing, things died down a bit, but I kept going mostly by myself with some random players well into the final G-Rank quests.

I have about five hundred hours sunk into the game. I can’t argue against the time I’ve spent on it, MonHun4U is definitely the game I’ve played the most this year and deserves the top spot, even if there is no order with these.

The reason why the game gets the spot, and got all the hours from me, is that it’s challenging and fun. There really isn’t anything like Monster Hunter, and even if the series is not all that popular in the West, it does have a healthy player base. That’s part of the reason I enjoyed this game to the extent I have, most players I’ve met online have been very supportive. Not only that, but it’s a very rewarding game with grinding taking a small eternity, but when you get the equipment set you’ve planned, you’re able to put it into use right away and start messing with harder and stronger monsters.

I started with MonHun Portable on PSP, and the series has come a long way from having stupidly difficult start and controls to a game that’s nicely balanced. Fixed hitboxes help a lot in actually knowing where the monster is going to hit and where you need to hit it back. While I still dislike the fact MonHun is all about animation management than anything else when it comes to the controls, it’s still relatively tight. I would prefer to have more options via cancelling or comboing differently, but that would change the gameplay rather drastically. Monster Hunter X sort of did this, where all the Styles have different kind of gameplay. Aerial Style is damn fun, and I can see myself using it whenever I decide to get it. Most likely I’ll wait and see if CAPCOM decides to bring it to the West, it’s gotten pretty good respond from the fans overall.

Gravity Rush (PSVita)

Gravity Rush was the game you got the Vita for. Now you don’t need to, it’s being remade for the PS4. It’s a very short and very sweet game, which kinda makes me wonder why the hell didn’t they bundle it and its sequel together, because it also feels very incomplete towards the end.

The thing Gravity Rush does the best is flying. You can spend hours end just flying around and collecting things. Sometimes after finishing with a session I could feel my eyes and physical feeling still pulling me towards the skies. It’s absolutely fantastic. Sadly, the rest of the game isn’t really as stellar. The battle system is very basic, more a chore than an enjoyment. Side quests, like with most games, are a chore a well. At least they give you more reasons just to fly around. Nevertheless, once you get inside the game and begin to fly around like its your second nature, using Gravity Kicks to beat your enemies becomes fast and easy. It’s still a chore sure, but at least you know what you’re doing and are good at it.

Gravity Rush could’ve been SONY’s first proper great in-house game franchise, but they fucked that up by waiting far too long with the sequel, and now killing Vita by porting what can be described as its only truly unique game. It’s one of those games that are flawed, but those flaws don’t really stand out too much, mostly because the exact same flaws have become more or less a standard in the industry. It does few things well, and one of them really damn good. Flying and freefalling haven’t been this fun since last night’s dream.

Gravity Rush 2 most likely will be one of the reasons I will end up getting a PS4

Nier (X360)

Nier is a game that I got more or less because I have respect towards Drakengard as a franchise, and because I am having stupidly high expectations for Nier Automata for no good reason. It’s also one of those games where I didn’t go skipping story sequences. Nier and Drakengard games have stupidly expansive story that are both as entertaining and interesting to read about as they are heart crushing.

I never finished the original Drakengard, it is effectively a shit game. Kusoge, if you want to use the Japanese term. I’ve heard the second game improves the gameplay a lot, which is why I’ll be giving it a look at some point next year. Nier is a far better game than Drakengard in ever respect, yet it carries the same generic flaws as Gravity Rush; side questing to the extreme and dumb as hell combat. What makes Nier stand out from the crowd isn’t just because of the story, but how much it shows it was made with love. Effectively, the gameplay is what you’d expect from a 3D action game, in lieu of 3D Zelda. It has a very similar overworld-dungeon structure to boot. The music absolutely gorgeous, definitely one of the best soundtracks from previous generation.

The boss fights require a special mentioning, as they change the rules of the gameplay pretty drastically. I don’t know what good stuff the developing team was smoking at the time, but I want me some. The bosses, and some the minor enemies, have ability to turn the game into a large scaled version of bullet hells, which really makes the game’s bosses to stand out from the generic fodder you kill on the fields and dungeons, for better or worse.

Nier is also one of the few games that actually use video game’s own methods to tell a story. This is slightly spoilerific, so just skip to next bit if you don’t want to know. The main enemies in the game are Shades, and in the tutorial you are taught how to kill these by the dozens. Nevertheless, the fist Shades you meet in the game proper do not attack you, ever.  They are not aggressive, and items these smaller Shades drop are things like used colouring books or other stuff children tend to carry. It’s a very minor, but also very telling way to show to the player a foreshadowing element, where the Shades are not monsters, but human souls separated from their bodies, and you were just slaughtered bunch of innocent children without any provocation. It’s great stuff, and Nier ups the ante to the very end, even having an ending where you can choose to erase your existence, or in real world terms, all the saved and system data from your HDD. The DLC still stays, you don’t need to redownload that.

The reason why Nier also got on the list is that this year there were very little games that did actually tell me I’m on the list dammit! Nier’s not a kind of game I would otherwise put it on the list, as a game it’s pretty generic and even dumb, but as an overall piece of entertainment, including all the sidematerials and the insane shit they have in them, it got a spot. This kind of tells me very few games caught my eye this year, even less had the balls to be extremely good.


There’s something in this opening that I just like

Pitman (GameBoy)

Tetris is the ultimate puzzle game, Umihara Kawase games are the best puzzle-platformers and Pitman falls just under that. It’s Western name is Catrap.

The main goal in the Pitman is to beat all the monsters in a room. You got falling rocks to place, grass to cut and monsters to bump. Rather than trying to explain the gameplay mechanics incoherently in my whisky fumes, just give this video a look.

It’s a very fun game, but also very frustrating at times. It’s a great time sink and something I would recommend everybody to get their hands on, if possible. I think it’s available on the 3DS’ eShop, at least in Japan. There’s nothing much to say about it, all great puzzle games shine in their simplicity like that.

Captain Tsubasa II: Super Striker (Famicom)

When I was a wee lad, I ended up playing slew of soccer games as my older brother was part of a team. One of them was Tecmo Cup: Football  Game, which I always had fond memories of. It’s pretty much the only soccer game I remember liking next to Nintendo World Cup, both because they weren’t dull or aimed at realistic simulation, unlike Kick-Off!, which I should revisit after twenty years now that I understand how it work better. Of course, it took some time to find out that Tecmo Cup: Football Game was actually the Western release of Captain Tsubasa. The Cutting Room Floor has a list of differences that happened during localisation.

What makes Captain Tsubasa II an interesting piece that it’s something we could call a cinematic soccer game, derived from the fact that it makes extensive use of Tecmo Theatre, which is essentially a widescreen window on the screen showing actions and story progression. Other Tecmo games used it as well but not to the same extent. Ninja Gaiden may be the most famous example. The biggest difference with how Tecmo Theatre handles cinematics here is that they are completely dependant on the player input during gameplay. Modern games are very much on a lower calibre, where the cinematics play despite the player and only occasionally requiring an input or two. Outside when a cinematic of your action plays out, like Passing to another character or shooting, you’re in control the whole time.

Of course, prior to each match you’re given option to change the layout your team will be in, tactics and so on. If we really want to get into it all, you better be prepared to look closely into how the opposing team is playing and what their weaknesses are. All this becomes important later in the game after you’ve gained new team members and your current ones have levelled up enough. You read that right, Captain Tsubasa II has a level up system which gives a solid feel of progression and encourages you to play evenly rather than just relying on Tsubasa’s Super kicks.

As Captain Tsubasa II is a license game, it is an original sequel to the Captain Tsubasa comic, which had ended at the time. Funny thing is that certain elements appear in late World Youth sequel series. As such, it also carries a lot of elements that appeared in both the TV-series and comics when it comes to how it handles soccer. While it’s not necessarily unrealistic, it is cartoonish and supercharges the most dramatic moments, rivalries and of course, the kicks.

Supercharged would be a good word to describe the game. It feels fast, it doesn’t feel cheap and it simply feels so damn fun. Everything has been laid down so damn well with just the right design. The energetic music adds so much to the game, keeping the tension up and gets you pumped up. There is no one bad track in the whole game as even the damn Password screen theme get you hyped.

This is the key why Captain Tsubasa II is still popular among Japanese; it’s fast and wastes no time to throw you in. The game has got a lot of romhacks that modify teams, events and so on. Even Touhou has a soccer version that is essentially Captain Tsubasa II with a new coat of paint and new scenarios. It captures the gameplay pretty accurately, even if the running animation with the characters is rather awful. However, it adds far too long super moves with main characters, which in the end botches down some of the game’s pace.

Captain Tsubasa II: Super Striker is essentially a sport game for those who don’t like sport games. It’s also superior to its predecessor in every regard, which bums me out that this never got localised. It’s an excellent example how to manage cinematics with a solid and simple core gameplay.

Last games on my list have always gotten special spots. Captain Tsubasa II deserves it this time simply by being a damn good and entertaining game.

I really should read the comic one of these days, it’s basically responsible in making soccer a popular sports in Japan, much like how Slam Dunk did with basketball later on.

Those that didn’t make the cut

Unlike previous years, I’ll include a set of games that didn’t make the cut for whatever reasons. If you’re wondering why Schwarzesmarken didn’t get on either of the lists, it’s because I don’t consider Visual Novels as video games.

Metal Gear Solid V (PS3, 360, PS4, Xbone, PC)

The reason MGSV didn’t get the spot is that it was sort of boring on the long run. It forced a TV-series sort of structure, where every mission had opening and ending credits, which was an utter waste of time. I don’t give two damn who made the game, just let me get on with it already. The game had a large areas to play with, but there’s very little do in those empty spaces.

I know the game was released essentially unfinished, and this is also the reason why it feels very unrefined at times. Yet when looking at the time and money that was spent on MGSV, I understand very well why KONAMI wanted it out. Kojima spent too much time to make this a grand scale game, when one of the best part of the series has been that they all have been very tightly designed. I hope that whatever next Metal Gear game KONAMI puts out next will go back to the basics.

Langrisser RE:INCARNATION (3DS)

This game is also coming to West, and it’s not really worth your money. Well, it kinda is. I also hope they will drop TENSEI from the title.

I really love the Langrisser series, and RE:Langrisser was a disappointment I enjoyed. The most damning thing with it is the battle sequences; they are absolutely retarded. Turning them off actually makes the game very enjoyable, but at the cost of making it very in visuals. The music is tight as hell, and my favourite track Neo Holy War got in. Sure, it’s a Stage Results theme, but it got in dammit!

Speaking outside the fan perspective, unless the game gets a gameplay overhaul and content additions with completely revamping the battle animations, there’s very little reason to buy RE:Langrisser. It feels like a budget game without being one, and I wouldn’t recommend it to many people. Fire Emblem fans may get a kick out of it, as FE belongs to the same genre that Langrisser’s predecessor Elthlead started.

Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox)

I wanted to like the game, but after hearing so many glorious things, my hopes for a great game were crushed. There are games that are difficult and fun, but Ninja Gaiden Black is just a chore. The difficulty it has isn’t really anything that can’t be overcome, but it’s just a damn tedious game with little to no fun factor in it. There are more fun games in my library, and beating the game about halfway through I just gave up and decided to spend more time on games that gave something back as well.

Transformers Devastation (PS3, 360, PS4, Xbone)

I like most of Platinum’s games. They are often fast paced, very well designed and exceptionally well realised. However, lately their games have become stale in what they do, namely with The Legend of Korra and Transformers Devastation. TFD is a very fun game to play, but ultimately it is also very much of the mould as previous games from Platinum. They have a thing they do, and they do it very well, possibly the best in the whole industry.

Nevertheless TFD feels like they are strongly stagnating and close to repeating themselves in an endless cycle. TFD’s lack of revitalisation in what they do is the reason it didn’t get the spot, it’s too much of the same. This is why my hopes for Nier Automata are stupid, because I know it’ll be the best game in the Nier/Drakengard metaseries, but it will also be your run-of-the-mill Platinum game that doesn’t evolve or refine their core gameplay one bit.

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus (PSVita)

The first Senran Kagura was an awful game to play. It’s clunky, on the slow side and overall boring. Shinovi Versus was its first sequal, and is a lot better in every respect. The reason it didn’t get into Top 5 is that Senran Kagura 2 Shinku is a better game. It has better gameplay, better stage design, better tracks, and most importantly, faster load times. Shinovi Versus’ stages average around 45s, ranging from 5s to 1min 20s, all depending how well you know how to abuse the system. More often than not you’ll clear stages in about half a minute. This doesn’t even require you to grind for levels. This means the game should be a very fast paced game, but you’d be wrong thinking that. Loading the stage from the menu and loading the “overworld” after the stage takes 1min 50s, longer if there are more than one story sequence. When playing the game, ~51+% of your time is sitting and waiting for the game to load something. That’s infuriating, especially if you’re in the zone and just want to blaze through. The game takes twice as long to beat because of the load times. Without the long load times, this game would’ve been in Top 5. For a system that uses game cartridges, this is unforgivably awful optimisation.

Review of the Month; PSP and PSVita

Looking for a comprehensive history chart of handheld consoles turned out to be a useless exercise. The reason why I wanted to start with a chart like was to illustrate the design that across the ages game consoles have followed very similar design ideas, and the reason why this has happened is because there’s pretty much exactly two methods how to make a handheld console to work; vertical and horizontal. These two just work, there isn’t really any other way you put the screen without making the playing awkward in a way or another.

SONY’s handheld console line has been mainly using horizontal approach. This is mainly due to the screen that governs the face of the consoles. PlayStation Portable Go is an exception to the rule, which shows that you can have vertical design. The underlying sliding mechanics of Go allowed SONY to cram PSP into a far smaller size, thou I have heard some contradictory reports on the quality of the buttons. Unlike with the 3Ds review, I will review PSP and PS Vita with each, and as I don’t have an access to Go, it’ll have to be a separate curiosity. If I ever get my hands on it, I’ll review its design as well. The reason to this is that neither console saw any truly different iterations in their lifetime (outside Go), and as such the two allow a good point of comparisons how SONY moved from PSP to Vita.

The versions that I will use in this review are PSP-2004 and PCH-2016. Both are second versions of their respective console series, so the comparison point is either little off or spot on depending how you want to view it. I would’ve wanted to review the first versions, but I don’t have access to them. I’m using a pair of PS3 controller as stands for this review.

All those scratches and fingerprints. They may feel and look nice, but both of them attract high amounts of greasy fingerprints and scratches. I use screenguards for a good reason
All those scratches and fingerprints. They may feel and look nice at first, but both of them attract high amounts of greasy fingerprints and scratches. I use screenguards for a good reason. Sadly, a bubble slipped under Vita’s guard, and I’m too cheap to change it

One thing SONY always seems to emphasize with their consoles is that they feel nicely build. They’re sturdy. They don’t feel flimsy, they’re tight. Perhaps most importantly, they feel expensive. This is to differentiate the portable PlayStation line from its competitors and make a statement of worth. They make it rather well too, especially with overall glossy colouring and selected areas of silver with PSP, and overall uniform heft with Vita.

Silver in PSP goes around the console and that neat ring in the back, showcasing the spot where the UMD will be spinning, or as it often seems to be, not spinning because the drive is broken. Mine is working, though I've had to tweak it few times
Silver in PSP goes around the console and that neat ring in the back, showcasing the spot where the UMD will be spinning, or as it often seems to be, not spinning because the drive is broken. Mine is working, though I’ve had to tweak it few times. I also have a guard on the touchpad on Vita’s back. Note that Vita’s backside has matte plastic where there is no touch function, separating it. PSP has that glossy black all over, though I admit I personally do feel PSP’s plastic feels a bit cheap

However, there are few places on both PSP and Vita where this aim for higher worth is betrayed. With PSP the very first thing is the UMD drive. When opening the drive door, you notice that the door is very thin plastic and the metal parts are equally as flimsy. It does not only look untrusty, but feels like that too. The UMD format neat in of itself, but SONY should’ve used MiniDisc rather than invent a new format. The discs are relatively well protected, much like the drive they’re inserted, they feel flimsy. Their appearance is also rather toyetic, unlike the MiniDisc that still looks good to this day. It’s weird to see a handheld that aims to be rather mature in design only have relatively immature looking disc format.

The drive itself has a neat design, but it feels so damn cheap
The drive itself has a neat design, but it feels so damn flimsy. You could just snap it off just like that

That is not the only piece that feels cheap with PSP. The memory card slot is protected by a piece of hard plastic that is connected by soft plastic. The outward appearance is decent and follows the overall curves of the console, but feel and back of the piece lack any sort of refinement. Of course, the idea is that you don’t see behind it but once or twice. The Vita remedied this problem by having all the pieces uniform in colour and having much more stylised look to them. The pieces are very small and don’t come to mind too often, but details tend to mount fast over the larger strokes.

Vita's memory card slot has cleaner design too, but these two are the prominent ones on the systems
Vita’s memory card slot has cleaner design too, but these two are the prominent ones on the systems. Notice the small hole for the speaker on PSP, and how much gunk the PSP’s slide pad has gathered through all these years. I should clean that out, it looks filthy

Speaking of the larger strokes, let’s dive into the overall design of the consoles, starting with the PSP.

For its time, the PSP was a surprisingly flat handheld console, which kept getting flatter with each new variant. Flatness in itself is not a problem while playing a game, however, as the curves on each side of the console follow the natural geometry of human hands. This allows much more comfortable grip and puts the L and R buttons at a nice place for fingers to push them. In this general shape the PSP follows the GameBoy Advance, except it doesn’t have additional bulk in the back to conform more to the hands. This is unlike with the 3DS consoles, where the flatness and straight surfaces make playing games less comfortable.

The curves also dictate the placement of the buttons. When you grab the console, your thumbs should fall into place without any tweaking. PSP’s main action buttons are rather large, only a tad smaller than PS3 controller’s. Their distance is relatively the same as well, meaning that you should have easy time transitioning from a PlayStation controller to the PSP. The buttons themselves are slightly mushy and have a surprising amount of horizontal movement. They are nevertheless very responsive and have a nice tactile feedback to them, better than what either 3DS XL models have. The D-Pad on the other hand is a standard SONY fare. PSP’s D-Pad has 1mm smaller in circumference than PS3’s and is made of same hard crystal clear plastic as the action buttons. Because of this it feels more slippery and feels harder to play with. SONY’s D-Pads are rather love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing, but it is a sound design. It would’ve been better to use a textured surface on the D-Pad, but that would’ve broken the visual style of the console.

The Vita builds up from PSP’s base, curves and all. However, this time your thumbs fall unto buttons that are smaller than previously. While you’d think this would make the console smaller, the Vita is actually wider and higher console than the PSP, but it is about one-third thinner. There are two main things that separate Vita’s design from PSP. The first is that the Vita has no real corners in its design, it is very smooth console that has eliminated most if not all tight curves to sit in the hands more naturally. The second is that the touch surface in the behind has now created a need for intended space for the rest of the fingers. The Vita has two over regions in the back where you can have your middle fingers rest against or whatever position you feel the most comfortable with. However, as the touch area is rather large, the ovals are spaced rather close to the edges of the system, which can feel cramped to larger hands. I often find my middle fingers going beyond the ovals, but no game has taken any problems with this yet.

PSP used the same menu system as PS3. It works and is surprisingly compact, all thing considered
PSP used the same menu system as PS3. It works and is surprisingly compact, all thing considered

Vita’s smaller action buttons are similar in feel with the PSP’s, hard transparent plastic and all, but this time instead of having zebra rubber underneath them they sit on top of pushbuttons on the PCB. This changes feeling drastically, but on the long run it’s up to opinion which one feels better. The pushbutton ones don’t have any mushiness to them, but their tactile feedback is very sharp with not in-between zone. Personally, I’m am more worried about how long the buttons will last. On PSP I can always change the rubber underneath if it goes bad, but for PCB mounted pushbuttons I need to de-solder old ones off. The D-Pad is the same, pushbuttons underneath. However, the design has changed from previous SONY D-Pads, now being one whole unit instead of four separated directions. It is also smaller, but it feels nice. This is due to the fact that the plastic is different from previously. Yes, it is still transparent and glossy, but there is more friction to it. Without a doubt one of the best D-Pads out there, better than what the 3DS has to offer.

Both systems’ L and R buttons follow the overall shape of their consoles and are almost identical in feel. The main difference in them, outside the shape, is that the Vita allows the shoulder buttons to be pushed down from whatever point you wish. With the PSP you need to press from the corners because of pivot point inside. This is a clear design evolution to accommodate more hand sizes and ways of holding the console.

Both consoles’ function buttons (Start, Select etc) feel the exact same with pushbuttons on the PCB underneath. This clicky nature works for them, especially on PSP, where they are differentiated from the main buttons. Vita’s volume buttons placement is extremely strange, as instead of placing them somewhere easily accessible, they reside on top of the console between the game card slot and the R-Button. The Power button is opposite to them, which does feel more natural. The reason to this placement is because the face of the console was already full. Underneath the D-Pad you have the left stick and Menu button and underneath the action buttons you have the right stick, Start and Select. Both consoles’ faces’ are governed by their large screens. With PSP these buttons were placed under the screen in a more or less logical manner with other buttons, but it does make a busy looking face and in the end doesn’t look very good. With Vita the screen’s surroundings were cleaned, leaving only SONY and PSVITA logo above and under it. It does look better, but because of this some functionality is lost.

Vita has two sticks, which overall feel very nice and play games fine. They are better than PSP’s or 3DS’s Slide pads, but take more room. Perhaps they could’ve been slightly smaller by a millimetre or two. I don’t really play games that utilise them too much, so they’re a bit waste on me. However, shooting games likes Soldier Blade play really damn well.

Vita’s menu system uses bubbles, which looks gimmicky. If you want your themes to stand out, you need to position them properly. Both swiping the screen with your finger and using the D-Pad works just as fine. An interesting thing about this is that open Applications reside right, as in you swipe the screen to the left to access them. It works surprisingly well, eliminating some button usage

Handheld consoles never really had good speakers, but SONY tries to make them at least properly serviceable. The PSP has small speakers both sides of the screen, just angled up from the D-Pad and the action buttons. This is a good placement as the sound is not obstructed, but their relative closeness can cause some stereo to be lost. Vita on the other has its speakers on the very edges of the system, causing them to be under your thumbs. The sound quality doesn’t take a too large hit from this, but the closer your thumbs are to the surface of the console, the more muffled the sound will be. Of course, headphones are recommended when it comes to playing handheld games, but that doesn’t excuse the awkward if not stupid placement. I assume that the speaker elements are large enough to require more space, unlike the camera unit that’s residing just next to the action buttons.

This spot for a speaker is really damn weird
This spot for a speaker is really damn weird. This is also a nice indicator of the amount of fingerprints and how they stay on the system even after you’ve just showered. Vita attracts fingerprints and scratch marks like no other

Speaking of the camera, the only hard corners on the console can be found on its back on the main camera unit. For whatever reason it’s not smooth as the rest of the console, making it a bit curious spot.

Overall speaking, PSP and PSVita showcase the stronger suite in SONY’s design. The PSP still stands in terms of comfort and design when playing games on it, but the Vita is better in almost every respect. Hell, Vita’s battery life alone is an incredible improvement. In terms of design alone, they beat the DS and 3DS fair and square, but their library was weak. Vita is essentially dead in the water with no real games to carry it. All it is getting are ports, sequels or remakes. After some time, most of its games are ported to other platforms. The Vita has been made a useless console even by its own company, as SONY is pushing Gravity Rush for the PS4.

PSP was a neat console with only a  handful of unique games, and that will be Vita’s fate as well. It is sad to see a handheld console with such great design wasted.

Shuhei Yoshida’s reason why Vita failed barks at the wrong tree

At EGX, the president of SONY computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios said that you shouldn’t hold your breath for the successor.

He blames the demise of the Vita on smartphones. This is wrong. The reason the Vita failed is because it had only one game that pulled people in, and that was Gravity Rush. Now that it’s getting ported to the PS4, on which the sequel will appear on as well, they’ve made the killing blow themselves. Where the hell was this push towards the Gravity Rush franchise when it was new? Where was the upcoming TV adaptation when it and Vita were young? They doomed the handheld console with their inaction above all else.

Being free or being free to start is what people may look from a smartphone game, yes. That is not what people are looking from a handheld console game. Look at the GameBoy and the DS. Both libraries are filled with games that are pleasure to play on the go, and both offer large games for the hardcore to go into. The Vita has absolutely nothing special to offer. What it suffered from was the lack of quality games and support from SONY.

Yoshida may be a fan of the Vita, claiming that they at Sony worked on the design extensively to make the console the best. He is wrong that touch-based games trump over sticks and buttons, as it’s up to game design how any sort of input is being used. Hell, slew the best games have been designed from the hardware up. I like the Vita’s hardware as well, it has one of the best D-Pads I’ve used in a while.

The power and the design of the console means jack shit if there’s nothing to back it up. It’s just a box to play games.

Listening to Yoshida to talk about the PSP and how they wanted to have PS2 level graphics on a big LCD screen on the go. They want to push new technologies on their consoles for the developers to work with. Not a moment he even hints if they stopped to think whether or not these should be used as they are, or if the consumer has a want or need for them.

It’s painfully clear that development in SONY is more concentrated on making toys for the developers to toy around rather than to please consumers.

Why was the DS so popular? It wasn’t because of its touch screen. It was because the games were good and expanded the market. The reason PSP failed against the DS was because it failed to expand the market and had mostly ports and sequels. The Vita has all the PSP’s problems heightened to a new degree, with almost nothing but ports and sequels. Why would anyone buy a console to play these, when the trend has shown how these games keep keep appearing on other platforms all the time?

A console does not sell on potential. It sells on software. The Vita had potential, but it lacked software to make best of it.

Review of the Month; Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari

Seems like Agatsuma wants to take the best out of Sayonara Umihara Kawase in the likely case it will be the last game in the series. However, I’ve been wrong about the handling of this game all this time, arguing against its Western release on the 3DS, then later for Vita, but luckily I was proven completely wrong and both versions saw a release in English. Digital only, but a release nonetheless. I’ve said previously that purchasing video games has become a somewhat political issue in certain circles, where people have began to emphasize support of the companies over the quality of the product itself. My initial purchase on the physical release of Sayonara Umihara Kawase was this. I am admit for being a fan of the series and that I do certain things that your normal fan would. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that the game itself is a top notch puzzle platformer. Some would say that it’s the best, but tastes vary and I’m more inclined to say that Sayonara Umihara Kawase is the most exciting and rewarding platformer we currently have, but the nature of the game will put some people off.

They even revised the logo a little bit
They even revised the logo a little bit

With the Vita release, Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari, or just Chirari if you got to know her well enough, boasts the same levels and characters from the 3DS original release, but with no 3D support, stabilised 60 frames per second, some new levels, comes with the original Super Famicom Umihara Kawase and the limited edition came with a character you can out on your cup of noodles. As mentioned, the Western release is digital only and this is reflected in the price. For whatever reason they didn’t think up any good translation to Chirari, just replacing with a… plus. Doesn’t really sound as good.

Umihara Kawase is a nice game series in that while every game is very similar to each other, the series has changed slightly with each instalment. The Super Famicom game is very straightforward and there’s nothing else but you and your line. It starts rather simple and easy overall speaking, but just few stages in you can do acrobatics that are required later on accomplish the stages. The skill ceiling is very high, and getting good with the game won’t happen in one night, unless you have magical understanding of pendulum physics and high controller execution skills. The game has an interesting dynamic, where the fish enemies play about 50/50 of the stages’ difficulty with their movements and positions.

Speedruns and such make the game look far more easier than it really is

The second game on the PlayStation saw few release versions, and some of the demo discs have stages not seen elsewhere. Umihara Kawase Shun changes things tiny bit and emphasizes on stage navigation while taking the emphasize on enemies away a bit. That alone changes how the game is played slightly, but what makes this game stand from the SFC game that the line is now a bit shorter, but much more springier in nature. You can also see that the game had better budget overall, as the game is far more colourful than its predecessor with better sound quality to boot. Shun saw a port to the PSP, which is absolutely abysmal due to porting developer, Rocket, managed to mangle the code to the extent of breaking the game’s physics and mechanics. It’s an unplayable mess. However, there is Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban on the DS, which brought in the original developer duo in to oversee the process, and was considered the best portable version of Shun. It comes with the SFC game in it, thus making it an excellent piece overall.

The music in Umihara Kawase games has always been this sort of relaxed take on them, not hurrying you in any ways. Some could call the pastel coloured elevator music, but that’s part of the charm of the series

Sayonara Umihara Kawase may be the swansong of the series, but if this will be the case, the series will go with a nice bang. Umihara Kawase has come to a point, where it abandons the slight arcade roots it had and dumps the live system from previous games. No longer you traverse from the first stage to the next through doors and choose different routes this way. Sayonara Umihara Kawase introduces a map screen, where you can see your progression. Stages can now be replayed at will, and every successful playthrough is recorded as is your failures. Backpacks served as lives in previous games, but here they serve as collectibles that unlock illustrations, music and stuff in the Gallery mode. There are still different routes on the map screen and thus multiple ending stages. When at least one is finished, you unlock Survival Challenge, which is essentially the classic Umihara Kawase mode; you start from first stage with limited lives and need to play through your selected route in one go.

Umihara herself has grown up in few ways since her first game, and Sayonara introduces two extra characters to play with. Childhood Umihara is a separate playable character from her current self, and to go with that we have her friend Emiko. The two share a checkpoint ability, where at certain points in the stages a checkpoint flag pops up. In case of failure, either character will return to that point, but it only works once per checkpoint. The second character is Noko, a time travelling police and Umihara’s descendant. Sure, why not. Her power is to engage bullet time for more accurate action or something.

Sayonara builds on top of Shun’s idea of having the stages as your primary challenge. There are some enemies placed in challenging locations, but they’re not the main thing to look for. Pits, spikes and other stage hazard are the thing that most likely will do you in. There is a good amount of care put into developing and building the stages, and as usual there are few different ways to finish the stages themselves, unless the stage us built around a mechanic or gimmick. The whole game is now in 3D, and some of the elements was made to take advantage of the 3DS’ 3D output. However, this is damn useless and drops the framerate down to 30. For a game that requires high level of execution with point accuracy, you want to have a good framerate that allows you to react and act at the right time.

The physics and mechanics are very similar to Shun too. While the difference between SFC and Shun is very clear, how the line functions in Sayonara Umihara Kawase is very similar to Shun to the extent I can’t make any proper difference. The only thing I can say is that Shun’s rope physics are a little bit more bouncier, and that lends itself to high speed acrobatics a bit better in contrast to Sayonara’s ever bit more controllable line. It’s like in the middleground between SFC and Shun of sorts.

With Vita lacking any 3D effect, Chirari doesn’t suffer from this. You may like the 3D on the 3DS, but it brings nothing to the table here. Playing both 3DS and Vita versions brings out the best and the worst in the two devices, but Umihara Kawase just plays better on Vita. This is partly because of the 3DS’ design, but also because the Slide-Pad and D-Pad on the system are subpar with mushy buttons. Chirari simply plays better due to more responsive buttons. As everything that was found in the 3DS was directly ported to Chirari, some of the sprites look slightly pixelated on the Vita’s screen. While most of these are just passing things, it hits your eyes a bit. The same applies to the 3D models to some extent, and as such things like this should’ve been addressed properly. However, this also shows that the porting most likely didn’t have the highest budget out there, and the extra stages and all either were something that didn’t manage to be finished by the end of the deadline, or were planned but never realised in the 3DS version. The map screen also was turned from horizontal plane to vertical for whatever reason, but it works just fine.

In the end, Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari is an excellent game because of the 3DS original was an excellent one already. The few saw edges it has can be forgiven for stable 60fps and better screen. The visuals may too sweet and cute to some. Out from the two, Chirari does better on the scale due to Vita simply having better controller hardware. This is highly important as the series has always been all about the gameplay, and that’s what really matters with games. In addition, Chirari comes with those few new stages and packs with the original SFC Umihara Kawase much like Shun Second Edition Kanzenban did. With Shun on the PSN (or at least in Japanese PSN), the Vita currently is the console to play the whole series on one device.

Walking fish. Sometimes I wish fever dreams would stay away from the waking world
Walking fish. Sometimes I wish fever dreams would stay away from the waking world
I miss when they had proper manuals
I miss the time when they had proper manuals, not these slips

Region free 3DS?

Two generations ago region circumvention was enough. Very few games supported any sort of patching on the sixth generation of video game consoles. Nowadays the story is different with each platforms from this and previous generation supporting large scale updating and patching.
Simple region circumvention isn’t cutting it anymore as the online functionality comes into way. For Pokémon it’s easy to see; people without certain patches won’t be able to trade or fight online. Second one would be Monster Hunter, where multiplayer patches could be highly important.
Secondly, there’s the problem of the consumer inability to access the possible DLC. While I’m not a huge fan of DLC myself, I know that there are those who wish to purchase so-called complete game every bit of colour variations and alternative outfits.

As such, regionthree for the 3DS is one limited little thing.
regionthree has been hailed as the loader that defeated the 3DS’ region locking. This, of course, is not the case. Wii’s region locking was defeated and humiliated harshly with sofmods, 3DS’ locking still applies. Be it the paranoid attitude of the 3DS hacking and homebrew scene towards piracy, or the fact that GateWay holds extremely harsh monopoly over both scenes, the 3DS users don’t benefit all too much from this launcher.
There exists a handful of games that regionthree allows to shine at their fullest potential. These games are single player and have seen no updates or DLC. One could argue that certain games that have more or less useless DLC belong to this category too with games that have something one wouldn’t purchase anyway. For example, Super Robot Wars UX is a complete game on itself and DLC stages only offer what one could call puzzle stages. These stand alone stages don’t add anything to the main game, but could be a nice extra if they had a cheaper price.
In order to defeat the current region locking 3DS now has would mean similar set of tools that a softmodded Wii has. I would argue that SONY’s take on the whole region locking has been rather good in comparison. There are problems that need to be faced before one can access the other region stores, but patches and other similarities are completely universal, independent from the region the system is in when it comes to physical games.

regionthree also requires you to be online during start up due to it using GateWay’s site. While I don’t have any problems with this, this is extremely bad design. There is an Android application to circumvent this problem, but otherwise the whole deal is just pretty damn bad. Even for a flashcard product this is something unforgivable and I have no idea why anyone would spent their money on a product that could brick both the console and the flashcard.

It’s like intentionally being an ass to the customer.

regionthree also raised a good question; what games are actually worthwhile importing from other regions? As this only applies to physical games, all the digital content is thrown out the window without any remorse. A lot of games are still being localised and I doubt most 3DS’ users have enough language skills to play something like New Love+. Speaking of New Love+, I’m divided if I should just throw my social life away and get one.

There are numerous games I would like purchase from local stores, but seeing how limited the launcher ultimately is there’s no way in hell I’d purchase a game I know I wouldn’t be able to take full potential out of. Then again, now people can get that 3D Sega compilation on cartridge rather than purchase them all separately from the eShop.
Anyways, regionthree shows that there really isn’t anything worth importing across regions that is not extremely niche, localised or getting a localisation. At least this is better than with PSVita, which has barely any original games. I’m extremely surprised that there is no sequel for Gravity Rush on the system already. I remember it being one of the most advertised games for the system, but now there is no advertisement for the system. It’s PSVita’s failing miserably or something. The system had promise and looked interesting, but nobody was actually making any good games for it. I can’t even collect those minimum of seven original games for the system to warrant a purchase. The list consists exactly one PSVita original game and even that is the aforementioned Gravity Rush. The rest are ports, sequels or remakes.

In that sense the PSVita shows a prevailing problem in the industry at large. Not only same stuff is recycled into new boxers, but there’s no chances taken. Of course I can’t deny that there is a very damn good reason to keep repeating the same thing over and over again, but an industry needs to renew itself at times in order to keep itself fresh. I guess the jump to 3D is a good example, despite 3D Mario historically having lower sales than 2D ones.

Perhaps people just want more 2D than 3D.

Back to 3DS and its region locking. I doubt Nintendo can just free it. This is because they most likely have a certain legal grounds that prevents them from just flipping the flag from 1 to 0 and allow the region freedom. This wouldn’t be enough. As with regionthree, the player would be unable to access any of the functions that would require different region eShop. I highly doubt that Nintendo would be willing to change their eShop system to support any kind of region freedom. It is more or less integrated to how the console functions. It would take somewhat massive reconstruction how their online store model would work. There would be a need to implement similar system that Sony already has. It just ain’t happening, but I hope I’m wrong.

I could see Nintendo releasing the region coding so that the eShop in itself, the application on the console, would still be regionally locked, but any and all physical games could fetch update and patch datas. Games that rely purchasing DLC via eShop would be screwed, but that’s something that could be slightly gotten around by patching the DLC functionality directly into the games.

I really hope I didn’t ramble too much, I was slightly under influence of brewed drink. For that, music time!